While I’m not a huge Rocky fan, I have a fondness for the original, a film that has you believe it’s heading one way, before gently turning in a different direction at the beginning of the third act. Creed is technically the latest sequel in the Rocky series, but in order to bring something fresh to the franchise, it is also a spin off, making its main character Donnie, the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed. A film about a man training to become a fighter just like his father could go wrong so easily, but this has a depth that raised it above my expectations. Donnie is a young man who is both afraid to take on his father’s name, and desperate to believe that he is more than just an out-of-wedlock mistake. Rocky is an ageing star who has forgotten how to fight his battles, whatever form they come in. Instead of a meat-headed film filled with macho bullshit, Creed is thoughtful and introspective.
The cast are all superb, and although the film does hit many of the emotional moments I expected it too, I had no idea how it was going to end and during the final fight I realised I was completely invested in the characters. The real stand out is Stallone as the aging Rocky Balboa, who becomes Donnie’s trainer. A lot of his scenes put me in mind of Johnny Cash’s final albums, in which the old, tired voice of the singer added gravitas to songs like The Man Comes Around. Similarly, there are moments when the old, tired voice of Rocky adds depth to what could easily have been something throwaway or cheesy, such as when he stands Donnie in front of a mirror and says:
“You see this guy staring back at you? That’s your toughest opponent. Every time you get into the ring, that’s who you’re going against. I believe that in boxing and I do believe it in life.”
The boxing matches themselves are well executed, and despite them essentially being two men hitting each other, they are never dull or repetitive. The editing allowed these sequences to be dramatic, entertaining, and easy to follow by not bowing to the current trend of rapidly cutting from one shot to the next. A particular stand out is Donnie’s first professional fight, which seems to be shot in one take, with the camera dancing around the ring with a grace that borders on beauty. In a time of shaky cameras that obscures the action, Creed allows the audience to savour every punch, jab, dodge and blow. The editing and camera work of this film impressed me so much that I’ve become more hopeful that Ryan Coolger’s next film, Black Panther, will give us action sequences that can be relished rather than endured.
Despite being over two hours long, the film never drags. The story unfolds at a natural pace and the characters and their struggles kept me interested throughout. It’s focused on a sport that involves people punching each other, and yet manages to be thoughtful. The word is there is a sequel in the works, and if they manage to keep up the same high standard, it will be one to watch out for.